Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Painful Beginning

I still have a very clear imagine in my mind of a picture I saw in a school text book years ago showing an old pencil drawing of somebody suffering a tetanic seizure. Their body contorted and the agony graphically etched on their face as every muscle in their body contracted horrified me. Having grown up with vaccinations being a routine part of life, I never expected to see anybody with Tetanus, naively imagining it was a disease resigned to school text books to scare children into getting their vaccinations.

With only a 58%[1] tetanus vaccination uptake, Chad is listed as one of the top 28 countries to contribute to the 110,000 deaths a year from neonatal tetanus[2].

Tetanus is an illness that results from spores entering the body through puncture wounds, or in the case of babies, commonly through cutting the umbilical cord with a dirty instrument. The resulting bacteria produce a neurotoxin which causes painful, and eventually life threatening, muscle spasms. Even with hospital care, the mortality rate of tetanus can be high as 60%.

Just over a month ago, a little baby girl, of 6 days old, was bought to the hospital experiencing full body spasms with even the slightest stimulation. It was incredibly distressing to see and her chance of survival looked slim. We treated her with a concoction of drugs, including incredibly high doses of muscle relaxants, minimal stimulation (no unnecessary touch and whispered ward rounds) and lots of prayer! A week on, though the spasms persisted, she began to turn a corner and we were able to place a feeding tube into her tummy so she could begin to receive her mother’s milk. A couple of weeks on from that, her spasms much reduced, she was feeding normally from her mother, tolerating being held and beginning to act more as a baby should. A further week on, discharging home was in sight.

Incredibly she went home last Wednesday. Praise God!

I was right to be horrified by the picture of a man in a tetanic seizure in my school book, but the reality is far worse. Tetanus is entirely preventable by a simple vaccination. My hope is that, one day, tetanus will also be something just confined to the school books of Chad.

Baby and Mum at the end of a painful beginning

[1] WHO. 2008. Chad. Factsheet of Health Statistics.

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